I recently talked to someone who questioned whether she was “disabled enough” to identify as disabled. She said she had a “mild” version of her condition and hesitated to even talk about it. I really related to this, because sometimes I have imposter syndrome about my own disability. (That’s usually when a flare shows up to validate me!)
In my speaking programs, I teach that conditions are different for everyone. Just because it has the same name doesn’t mean it’s got the same symptoms, severity, or even emotional context. This is like saying your Italian grandma’s meatballs aren’t going to be like your friend’s Italian grandma’s meatballs.
Disability is defined as something that “significantly impacts one’s daily activities.” If your essential daily activities are affected by your condition, yes, that’s disability. It doesn’t matter if people have it worse.
That’s something else that people say: “I try to remember that people have it worse.” I don’t like this statement. I don’t like any of this kind of comparing. It’s not a competition. And what you’re living with matters. It’s significant. (Instead, you might say, “I try to remember that it could be worse.”)
What I ended up saying to this person went like this….
I think it’s especially important for those of us with “milder” cases to take up space in the conversation because everyone needs to know that these conditions are different for everyone, that there is a range, and that all cases matter, not just the extreme ones.
This is important for an even bigger conversation of anyone who thinks their trauma isn’t significant enough to “count.”
We all need to know that when we spotlight just the extreme, just the worst, it blinds us to countless other situations that absolutely matter and need to be addressed. This includes disability, exploitation, bullying, racism, sexism, sexual assault … I could go on and on. I’d been both physically abused and sexually assaulted in the past, and I didn’t even know it when these things happened because it didn’t look like it does in the Lifetime Channel movies. Now I know better, because I was finally taught that it’s not just the extremes that fit the definitions.
We need to live and therefore teach that these full ranges exist and everything in the range is valid. What you’re going through is absolutely valid, and I think you should talk about it as much as you’re comfortable doing so. It helps us all.
Thank you for writing this. I needed to read it (and not just today). It does feel like pain and/or disability tends to be involved in a competitive type conversation. Her’s is worse than mine, Mine is worse than his. And you’re right – no one benefits from that. I often feel I don’t have a reason to complain/mention/discuss my pain and limitations when I know I am lucky in so many ways.
I loved how you reframed it to “I try to remember it could be worse.” And then it’s all on me. Thank you!
Thank YOU for the kind comment. ❤